Wednesday, 18 January 2017 00:00

Lessons learned from 2016: Quarterbacks

Editor's note: This is Part 3 in a several part series where we dissect each offensive fantasy position and tell you what happened this season (2016) and how you can apply those lessons into your draft for next season (2017). You can check out all the lessons learned from quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends throughout the offseason.


Coming out of the 2015 season, the 2016 quarterback landscape was looking good. In 2015 all of the top 13 QBs threw for 30+ touchdowns and the top 6 all had over 300 fantasy points. In 2016 however, only five players threw 30+ touchdowns and only three QBs topped the 300 fantasy point bar. So, what did we learn about the quarterback position this fantasy season? Did anything go right or was this just simply a down year for quarterbacks?

We learned that…mechanics make the wheel go round

2016 was the year the general football consensus learned the importance of QB mechanics. Many quarterbacks have managed to skate by on arm talent alone and that makes them good fantasy options for one season. But inconsistent mechanics means inconsistent quarterback play and this means inconsistent fantasy production in the long run, explaining the huge drop off in quarterback production from 2015 to 2016.

Brock Osweiler was at the helm of arguably the most talented offense in the NFL. Surrounded by DeAndre Hopkins, Lamar Miller and Will Fuller, Osweiler’s lethargic wind-up and sluggish release resulted in batted balls and many uncatchable targets due to his side-arm release.

The same goes for Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles. The Jags offensive performance in 2015 garnered questions as to whether they were home to the best wide receiver tandem in the league in Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. Bortles’ terrible 2016 mechanics resulted in Allen Robinson, a borderline 1st/2nd round pick in August, becoming effectively unusable this season as Bortles began to drop the ball below his elbow in his wind up leading to an unnecessarily long release and producing overthrown passes.

Even last year’s MVP Cam Newton along with rookie prospect Carson Wentz had their mechanical flaws expose them this season. Relying on arm strength alone leads to inaccuracy and produces passes often too low for receivers to catch. Forced passes and backfoot throws are all traits of a quarterback’s reliance on their arm strength and often result in passes being too far behind receivers. Using your arm instead of your body is a quick recipe for an interception. Neither player steps into their throws and so they struggle to throw with touch and anticipation.

Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees on the other hand have perfect mechanics and it comes as no surprise that both of them are consistently top 5 fantasy quarterbacks, with the odd SuperBowl thrown in too.

We learned that…mojo doesn’t last

Momentum is a term we hear a lot regarding NFL offenses and it is often why fantasy owners worry when their players return from their bye-weeks as offense is all about practice, repetition and chemistry. Offenses that can keep their momentum going throughout the season are both NFL gold and fantasy gold.

In 2015 we saw that a few offenses certainly were feeling their mojo and this lead to stellar quarterback play. Cam Newton, Blake Bortles and Carson Palmer were all part of high-flying offenses last year and all finished as top 5 fantasy quarterbacks.

However, without relatively much changing, all three of those quarterbacks failed to repeat this in 2016, with Newton following his QB1 season finishing as the QB18 and Palmer slotting in right behind him. Strangely enough, the much maligned Blake Bortles finished as the best of the bad bunch with a confusing QB8 ranking.

As we all accept Bortles is a fantasy anomaly year on year, the rankings clearly show that momentum doesn’t carry over through the offseason. With this in mind, beware of drafting the wildly inform quarterbacks from this season again in 2017. I’m looking at you Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford.

We learned about…the new kids on the fantasy block

2016 however, wasn’t all bad. With Peyton Manning retiring and Tom Brady and Drew Brees getting up there in years, 2016 saw the birth of the new crop of fantasy studs. Derek Carr (QB9), Marcus Mariota (QB15) and of course Dak Prescott (QB6) had a coming out party this year.

Carr was an MVP candidate this season and probably would’ve finished as a top 5 QB without his injury in week 16. Mariota, who was also similarly injured to Carr in week 16, was complete gold-dust early in the season with three top 5 finishes in quick succession and threw for two or more touchdowns in two thirds of the games he played in in 2016.

And we couldn’t discuss young quarterbacks without talking about the man of the moment, Dak Prescott. Prescott finished 2016 tied 5th for total touchdowns with 29 but the true measure of Prescott’s greatness this year has been in his ability to limit his interception total with only 4 INTs. Not only does that result in less negative points but it also keeps drives alive and results in more scoring opportunities for Prescott, who has also demonstrated legitimate rushing capability too.

We learned to…please wait on QB

If 2016 has taught us anything, it is that you please, PLEASE wait on a quarterback when you draft next season. Unless you’re drafting Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees, there is no need to take a quarterback in the first 6 rounds. Top RBs and WRs are so few and far between and with injuries too, the need to stockpile your skill position players is greater than ever before. Fantasy is usually uses only one quarterback per line-up and as quarterback is so deep there is no need to waste a high pick on a brand name quarterback. Instead take a RB/WR and wait for a sensible upside QB.

For example, Ben Roethlisberger had a 6th round ADP and finished as the QB16 whereas Dak Prescott for instance had a 12th round ADP and finished as the QB6. It doesn’t stop there either; Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford and Derek Carr were all available in rounds 10-12 and all finished as top 10 QBs this season. But the craziest thing of all…Matt Ryan was undrafted this year in the majority of leagues. Wait and bet on upside, you might just wind up picking up the QB2 off the waiver wire.

Thank you for reading, you can follow Will Pendleton on twitter @willpendosports

Published in Fantasy Coverage
Thursday, 29 September 2016 00:00

Week 4 buy low/sell high candidates

When it comes to succeeding in fantasy football over the course of a season, it's important to know which players are on the rise and which ones are about to see a dropoff in production. In this article, we give you a few players that could help or hurt your fantasy team as the season goes along.

Buy low:

Jordan Howard, Running Back for the Chicago Bears

The end of the short Jeremy Langford era is upon us. Langford suffered an ankle injury in the loss to the Cowboys and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. Even before suffering the injury, Jordan Howard had more carries than Langford. There is already speculation that Howard will remain the starting running back for the Bears even after the return of Langford. In the limited time Howard has had on the field, he has made the most of it, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. This is 2 more YPC than Langford. Ka’Deem Carey is also not expected to play his week. I expect Howard to prove himself as the best running back on the Bears and keep the starting role the rest of the season. You may still be able to get him for a relatively low price, but that won’t last for long.

Dez Bryant, Wide Receiver for the Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys pass offense has looked a little different this year. It has featured much less Dez Bryant and much more Cole Beasley. I don’t think this is going to change while Dak Prescott is at quarterback. Prescott is still new to the NFL, and while he’s played well for the most part, he’s still a rookie. He’s not going to make the same plays that Tony Romo would. Jerry Jones has expressed that as soon as Romo is healthy, he will be the starting quarterback, which is huge for Bryant’s value. Romo is expected to miss 6-10 weeks, which puts him right back in the lineup before the playoffs. You don’t necessarily need to make a trade tomorrow for Dez, but keep your eye on him. If he still is putting up very inconsistent games you can probably get a good deal for him.

Sell High:

Matt Ryan, Quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons

I never would have thought Matt Ryan would be the #1 fantasy quarterback three weeks into the season. His top ranking isn’t going to last forever. Through the first three games of the season, the Falcons played Tampa Bay, Oakland, and New Orleans. They rank 20th, 32nd, and 25th respectively in passing yardage allowed per game. The next three weeks the Falcons play Carolina, Denver, and Seattle. They rank 5th, 4th, and 2nd respectively in passing yards allowed per game. They each have allowed on average the following number of fantasy points per game to the opposing quarterback: Carolina 13.5, Denver 13.8, and Seattle 10.1. He does have some more favorable matchups later in the season, but his value is not going to be higher than it is now.

LeGarrette Blount, Running Back for the New England Patriots

Blount has had a great start to the season. He currently leads to league in rushing attempts (75), yards (298), and is tied for first in touchdowns (4). I believe this is mostly due to Tom Brady’s suspension. Last season the Patriots were tied for 25th in team rushing attempts. Once Brady is back I expect to Patriots to resume “business as usual” with their future hall of fame quarterback. Just like last season Blount will have his big games, but he is not going to be the workhorse that he is now. I expect James White to get into the game more with Brady back too. Blount has yet to catch a pass this season, and we all know how well Dion Lewis and James White were last year. You may get one more great game from Blount but don’t expect that to keep up.

Keep for now:

Coby Fleener, Tight End for the New Orleans Saints

Fleener finally rewarded fantasy owners this past week with a big game, and that will continue to happen. The Saints are going to have to air the ball out every week to try and win. It has taken a little bit more time than expected for Fleener to get a feel of the offense, but he looks to have a grasp on it now. I am still as high on Fleener as I was when I wrote about him this season. Fleener is second in targets to Brandin Cooks with 23, and his targets have increased each game: Week 1 (4), Week 2 (8), and Week (11). Fleener will continue to get more comfortable with the offense, and will be productive. The Saints show no signs of being able to stop a team on offense (I’m calling the Giants game a fluke). Fleener is also a great buy-low candidate, but his stock is on the rise.

 

Published in Fantasy Coverage
Sunday, 21 August 2016 00:00

Jared Cook Could Shine in Green Bay

It’s been a long time since the Packers had a tight end even remotely fantasy relevant. Richard Rodgers finished as the No. 9 TE last season, but he’s not getting the title of ‘fantasy relevant’ yet. Rodgers caught one hail mary against the Lions which accounted for 61 yards and a touchdown. If you get rid of that play his stat line goes drops to 58/449/7, which makes him TE 12.

Even though TE 12 doesn’t seem terrible, Rodgers was so inconsistent he would’ve been a big gamble to start. He only posted 4 games with double-digit points (3 discounting the hail mary catch) while also posting 8 games under four points.

The last time the Packers had a startable tight end was in 2011 when Jermichael Finley was the fifth best TE. Finley’s career was riddled with injuries and after a serious neck injury, Finley had to retire. Like Rodgers, he posted 4 games with double digit fantasy points but had only 5 games under four points. Still not the production of a great fantasy option.

Jared Cook signed with the Packers during free agency. He has never played with an elite quarterback during his career. From 2009-2012 when Cook played for the Titans, his quarterbacks included Vince Young, Kerry Collins, Matt Hasselbeck, and Jake Locker. From 2013 - 2015, Cook played with Sam Bradford, Kellen Clemens, Austin Davis, Shaun Hill, Nick Foles, and Case Keenum. During that time, Cook’s best fantasy year was in 2013 when he finished as the 11th best TE.

Aaron Rodgers is by far the best quarterback the Jared Cook has even played with, and I expect a top 12 finish from Cook provided he is the starter. I believe that part of the reason that Jared Cook has never lived up to expectations is because he’s never had a reliable guy getting him the football. Cook has all the attributes to be a top tight end in the league. He has elite speed, posting a 4.49 forty yard dash in the combine in 2009. Even if his speed has dropped off a bit, he’s still one of the fastest tight ends in the game.

Vernon Davis and Jared Cook boast very similar skill sets. In the combine Davis posted a 4.38 forty yard dash, a 42 inch vertical leap while measuring in at 6’3”, 254 pounds. Cook had a vertical leap of 41 inches, and measured in at 6’5”, 254. The big difference between the two is Davis has played with a reliable quarterback for part of his career.

Cook does have some injury concerns. Currently Cook is recovering from foot surgery that he had in June. He should be ready to go for the start of the regular season, and maybe even some of the preseason. It’s important for Cook to get some work in with Aaron Rodgers. Missing practices could result in a slower start to the season for Cook.

The only way Cook could be a tight end worthy of starting is if he’s the unquestioned starter. If Richard Rodgers is the starter or if they split time, Cook will not put up great numbers. Neither player will have much value if they split time on the field.

Keep watching reports on which Packers’ tight end is practicing with the first team. Once Cook begins practicing it will be interesting to see how he and Richard Rodgers split first team reps. I would expect to see Jared Cook become the starting tight end, even if it isn’t right away. Cook is currently ranked by FantasyPros at TE 21, and 177th overall. He’s a great option for a late-round flier who has TE1 potential.

Published in Fantasy Coverage

I promise that this article does discuss Donte Moncrief, but bear with me while I discuss the offensive situation of the Colts first.

Andrew Luck is back, and he has a lot to prove after signing his $140 million contract extension. I know he didn’t play well last year, but a lot has changed since then. Rob “Chud” Chudzinski is the offensive coordinator, the Colts bolstered their offensive line in the draft, and Luck is finally healthy.

With Pep Hamilton out and Chud in we can expect the Colts to start attacking the field vertically, like a Bruce Arians type of Colts offense from 2012. With Arians in charge Luck finished his rookie season as the #11 fantasy QB and set the NFL record for most passing yards by a rookie QB. The Colts were 9-3 in the 12 games with Arians under the helm.

In the one game that Luck and Chud played together Luck put up 252 yards, 2 TDs, 0 turnovers, and was only sacked one time. Don’t forget that this game was also against the Super Bowl Champions themselves, the Denver Broncos. The game against the Colts was the only game in the 2016 season when Von Miller and company failed to sack the quarterback more than once.

Now insert Ryan Kelly. He is a strong and athletic center who the Colts took with their first round draft pick. His physical abilities plus his high football IQ will solidify the offensive line. I predict a good showing from the Colts O-line this year, which created the majority of the offensive problems for the Colts.

We can get to Donte Moncrief now. Keeping all of the aforementioned information in mind let me give you a few stats about Moncrief, T.Y. Hilton, and Luck. In the 7 games that Andrew Luck played in last season these are the stats for those two receivers: Hilton 31 catches, 548 yards, and 3 TDs for a total of 70 fantasy points in a standard league (101 PPR). Moncrief: 32 catches, 351 yards, and 5 TDs for a total of 62 fantasy points (94 PPR). Very close production for the No. 1 and No. 3 wide receivers on the depth chart.

Now I’m a guy that’s all about player consistency. I’d rather have the running back who puts up his 10 points each week than the one who switches off between 15 and 5 point weeks. Hell, I’d rather have one that puts up 9 points each week. I think that constant production is the key to winning.

I also want to note that Hilton had one game with 150 yards and 2 TDs, a total of 27 fantasy points. That’s over 38% of his seven week production in 1 game. Each of the receivers had a down week of two, but Moncrief scored at least 9 points in 5 of those 7 games. Hilton only managed to do it in 3 games. Now Hilton was the 24th best WR last year while Moncrief only came in at 38th, but bad offensive line play and a banged up Matt Hasselbeck made the Colts offense very inconsistent for the other 9 games.

Hilton’s inconsistency dates back to 2014. He had 6 games with 6 points or less and 6 games with 12 points or more. I’ll give him credit though, some of those 12+ point games were incredible performances. A 223 yard, 1 TD performance against the Texans and a 150 yard, 2 TD performance against the Browns. In his 3 best games last year Hilton put up 528 yards and 4 TDs. T.Y. put up almost 40% of his yardage total and over 57% of his touchdown total in just a quarter of his games. I don’t think it’s a fair to compare the 2014 seasons of Hilton and Moncrief as it was Donte rookie year.

Moncrief should see significantly more playing time in 2016 with the departure of Andre Johnson. Johnson played 710 offense snaps in 2015 as the team’s second string WR.

FantasyPros currently has Hilton as the 28th best player this year and the 15th best WR. Moncrief is ranked as the 58th best player and the 27th best WR. We know Andrew Luck is going to get the ball down the field as both WRs are deep threats, but Moncrief is going to be the better bargain. Hilton may end up with more fantasy points at the end of the year, but Moncrief is going to be the consistent scorer. He could even finish with nearly as many points as T.Y., and he’s going 3 rounds later. Bypass Hilton in the early rounds and snag a mid-round gem. #FeedMoncrief

 

 

Published in Fantasy Coverage
Wednesday, 27 July 2016 00:00

What to Expect from Coby Fleener in 2016

Coby Fleener is coming off of his worst season since his rookie year of 2012. He is leaving his college teammate Andrew Luck after four seasons to play with another elite quarterback in Drew Brees. The situation is great for both the Saints and Fleener. The Saints need a TE who can replace Jimmy Graham and no offense to Benjamin Watson, but I don’t think you’re that guy. Fleener can be that TE. I’m not saying he’s going to put up the 1,200 yards and 16 TDs that Graham did in 2014. But with Sean Payton’s offense, Fleener will have his best fantasy season yet.

The Saints have been blessed with Drew Brees and Sean Payton since 2006. The Saints worst finish in net passing yards in the Brees-Payton era was 4th.

Brees is a huge reason why the Saints offense has had so much success. I would argue that he is the epitome of consistent and great quarterback production. Since moving to New Orleans Brees has averaged over 4,800 yards and almost 38 touchdowns per season. He also only missed two games during that span. From 2011-2014, Brees averaged almost 5,200 yards and over 40 touchdowns per season.

In the same four year period, Jimmy Graham averaged 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns. That accounted for 21% of Drew Brees’ passing yardage and 28% of his touchdowns. That is incredible production from the TE spot. While it’s easy to think that Jimmy Graham is much better than Coby Fleener, they are comparable players.

Graham stands at 6’7” and weighs 265 lbs. Fleener is 6’6” and weighs 251 lbs. Graham’s 40 yard dash time is 4.56 while Fleener’s is 4.51. Both players are reliable catching the ball. Over the past three seasons, each player has dropped 12 passes, accounting for 3.3% of Graham’s targets and 4.3% of Fleener’s targets. Each player is thought of as a receiving TE, as both have received criticism for their poor blocking skills.

The following is the end of the season ranking in terms of total fantasy points for the starting TE in New Orleans since 2009: 18 (2009), 23 (2010), 2 (2011), 1 (2012), 1 (2013), 3 (2014), 7 (2015). It’s also important to keep in mind that 2010 was Jimmy Graham’s rookie year, and that 2009 was the only year he played football in college.

Last year the starting TE for the Saints was an aging Benjamin Watson. Even at the age of 36, he managed to haul in 74 receptions for 825 yards and 6 TDs. That stat line was good enough for 118 fantasy points, tied for 7th best with Travis Kelce. Even without an elite tight end, the Saints are getting production from that position. Now insert Coby Fleener, who’s an upgrade from Watson. Fleener is easily going to out produce a player past his prime, after a terrible 2015 campaign he is going to be eager to produce.

Sean Payton’s TE friendly offense is going to continue with Coby Fleener. Drew Brees is going to continue to air the ball out and Fleener will reap the rewards. I predict that he will finish in the top 5 this year. There might be a little bit of growing pains with Fleener learning a new offense, but Brees and Fleener will develop great chemistry. Fleener is currently ranked as the 7th best tight end by FantasyPros, and his ADP is 79th. I’m drafting him a bit earlier than that. The risk is well worth the reward taking Fleener in the 6th round.

Published in Fantasy Coverage
Wednesday, 07 October 2015 00:00

Notes on Falcons RB Devonta Freeman

These are a series of notes on why Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman has had such a breakout season midway through 2015. One of the reasons why we love football is for its parity, and Freeman is a classic example of a breakout RB nobody saw coming. Here I look at the Redskins/Falcons game where Freeman posted high quality stats and see where he was successful and try to point out why.

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At age 23, Freeman is in his second season and has an NFL-leading 9 touchdowns at the running back position. With three games of over 100 yards through seven weeks to go along with two 3-touchdown efforts, Freeman has been by far the biggest breakout fantasy running back of the season so far.

Notes from game vs. Washington Redskins

Freeman's stats in that one: 27 carries for 153 yards, 1 touchdown, 7 receptions for 44 yards

Some of the things I've noticed when watching Freeman run in this game was his ability to place his hand on the ground to re-establish his balance after contact with a defender. By doing this, he managed to turn a negative gain into a positive one in the first quarter. It happened on zone stretch play off the right side. The Redskins defensive tackle got off his block quickly and penetrated the backfield. The DT got his arm on Freeman as he ran through the hole.

While most running backs would've got tripped out for a loss, Freeman stumbled but used his off-hand and kept his knee from hitting the ground all while keeping his feet moving for a positive gain. It may not seem like much, but running backs who can create positive yardage even when their blocking isn't ideal can instill a lot of confidence in both the player, coaching staff and overall team. This kind of gain comes from a competitive drive within the runner to finish the play and get the most yardage possible. It can become contagious and lead to bigger gains as the game progresses due to the defense tiring out and also from the confidence within the entire team which I mentioned earlier.

Another thing I've noticed is Freeman's speed doesn't change throughout his run. His initial burst is very quick and he maintains that speed to the outside. He's patient when setting up his blocks where he has to cut off a blocker. This makes it difficult for defenders to react quick enough even if they get off their blocks since Freeman has typically already moved past them by that time.

Freeman is also a smart runner in terms of vision. When I say 'smart,' I mean he knows how to use the blockers in front of him and choose the correct lane to run in. When there's not a clear lane, Freeman can make one by framing blocks. When I say 'frame,' I mean he'll run right behind a lineman's butt and then cut off him so as to keep the defender from guessing which way he's going to cut and making it more difficult for the lineman to maintain his block. This also causes other defenders to get sucked into the lineman's block as well since Freeman is so close to his blocker, which sometimes results in both defenders knocking into each other and effectively cancel each other. I saw a lot of that when I looked at C.J. Anderson's tape from last season. Another running back who's very good at being patient at this is Le'Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Anderson was very good at reading the blocks that were in front of him and he clearly had the utmost trust those blocks would be there. and Freeman has proven no different, and sometimes success at the running back position is as simple as not trying to do too much and just hitting the hole with decisiveness. It's an instinctual reaction to what's in front of you, and how quickly you make up your mind and decide which hole to run through and whether or not it's the correct decision makes all the difference.

The zone stretch play to the left side was absolute money for Atlanta in this game. In fact, all of Freeman's biggest gains on a late fourth quarter drive came on left side runs. The Falcons offensive line did an exceptional job blocking and Freeman was decisive on all of those runs.

 

Link to original photo

Published in Fantasy Coverage

On Tuesday's edition of the podcast, we offer an apology for posting Draftkings fantasy football tournaments on our facebook page that we actually think you shouldn't enter (unless you thrive when taking big risks) and we also talk about Sam Bradford's increasing fantasy value and offer some daily fantasy advice at the running back position. Hint: We'll tell you why we like C.J. Anderson in Week 1. 

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Published in Podcasts

It's funny how players come out of the woodwork. One day an NFL running back is playing behind two running backs and chances are slim he'll see a lick of playing time. Most people only know him as a blip on the depth chart, a player who might come on in the event of a catastrophic turn of events for the starters and even if you do get his shot, he'll likely only end up posting mediocre numbers before the starters return from whatever caused them to come off the field.

We always have that notion when we watch the NFL, but time and time again a backup will come onto the scene and show us skills that we never thought a backup would have. We ask ourselves questions like 'how did this guy slip through the cracks?' 'Does he do this in practice?' 'Why does that one guy in our league always get to the waiver wire before me? He must have no life.'

The guy we asked those questions about last year was Broncos' C.J. Anderson, as we enjoyed the roller coaster ride that took us down another surprising turn into the 'who we consider an elite fantasy running back' category. Anderson dazzled those who only heard of the other famous C.J. (2K) before him. Anderson showed quick feet in getting up to the line, a decisive explosion when cutting upfield (perhaps his best trait) and added a eye-opening desire to break tackles through his elite balance and lack of fear when engaging defenders in the open field. It was because of these traits (and several more that we'll mention later in this piece) that led Anderson to become the hottest running back down the stretch of 2014. Considering he only started seven games, it was quite an impression.

Disclaimer: When identifying a very good fantasy running back, you can simplify everything down to two basic traits before you get into specifics. These are the two basic idea of what a fantasy running back should have.

1. Talent

2. Potential for high volume of carries

Of course, there are many more details to extrapolate from those scenarios, but those are the two overarching traits you must understand while drafting a quality fantasy running back.

Anderson's talent

On paper, Anderson doesn't exactly rattle nerves of defenders. He stands at a fun-sized 5'8, 224lbs. His 4.60 speed won't blow the lid of defenses. His one calling card was the 20-yard shuttle, which he posted a combine-high 4.12 seconds for that particular year.

He doesn't have a breathtaking open field running style like the LeSean McCoy's or Adrian Peterson's of the world. He doesn't even have a nickname yet, as CJ2K has already been taken. Maybe CJ1.5K plus 500 yards receiving would be a reasonable expectation at this point.

But he offers so much in so many other areas that the idea of him not being a burner almost seems like an afterthought when you watch him play.

Anderson possesses several highly valuable traits at the NFL level, one of which is elite balance while running through the hole. As Anderson takes a handoff, he shows the kind of burst needed to get to the line of scrimmage quickly enough before the defenders diagnose what hole he's running to. It's not an elite burst, but it's still very good.

Once at the line of scrimmage, he changes his footwork from long strides into short, choppy steps in order to change direction quickly. This is just before he shows us why he's an elite running back at the NFL level.

Right before he hits the hole, he shows a very impressive cut upfield which allows him to accelerate through the hole. He lacks a third gear which prevents him from maybe splitting the two deeper defenders, but he still gets a very positive gain on the play.

Highlight Reel: C.J. Anderson in 2014

 

Notice how he ramps up his acceleration after putting his foot in the ground and cutting upfield. His balance allows that shift to be a smooth, seamless transition, which is a valuable quality when it comes to gaining a speed advantage on the defense.

In this second clip, you'll see how his balance and running style allows him to slip past defenders.

Highlight Reel: C.J. Anderson in 2014

Notice how his pad level stays low which forces defenders to tackle him at the waist or risk being too high which would give the smaller Anderson a momentum advantage. Anderson stays on an even plane for the entire length of the run aside from when he breaks out of a tackle. His feet are always moving, which allows him to break through arm tackles. His toughness is also on display as he avoids running out of bounds and instead cuts it back and looks to take on more defenders. That's the sign of a true workhorse back.

In this third clip, you'll see his running style directly translate to points on the field. Watch for the same characteristics I noted above.

Highlight Reel: C.J. Anderson in 2014

Another trait Anderson possesses is a high level of mental toughness. He processes a play very quickly which allows him to be one step ahead of the defense mentally at times. Here we see an example of it after the catch.

One of the backs who I've noticed execute a similar type of elusiveness is Eagles' RB Darren Sproles. Though Sproles is more of a burner and and an explosive back, his low pad level and small frame creates a similar effect on the defender as you'll see below.

Vision is another key quality to look for. Pay attention to the clip at the bottom of the article and notice how the offensive line is moving to the right, and watch how Anderson has to quickly make the decision to squeeze through a moving hole. Think of it like trying to jump through a hula hoop that's moving to the right and is about 2 inches off the ground. You have to time it just right and keep your feet high enough so you don't trip. Anderson executes it as well as you possibly could. Once Anderson breaks through the first level, his elite acceleration that we mentioned earlier allows him to change gears quickly and get to the outside.

Saints Yearbook '11: Darren Sproles

Highlight Reel: C.J. Anderson in 2014

 

 

 

Whether or not Anderson will get the correct situation is still a mystery. Montee Ball will likely get another shot at some point due the Broncos being so invested in the Wisconsin product. So if Anderson slips up at all, expect there to be a cosmic change in the Broncos' lineup. But as of now, he's the guy. And his talent is second to few in the NFL. He's worth a first-round pick in 2015 due to talent alone.

Published in Fantasy Coverage

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On Monday's edition of Treatment, the Helpers discuss the zero running back theory and why it's a big risk in fantasy leagues. They also talk about the importance of quality running backs in fantasy football. Plus Pennywise 'Bro Hym Tribute' and some other things.

The Helpers kick off the discussion talking about the value of picking in the middle of the fantasy draft. According to NFL.com, more than 12 percent of fantasy owners who drafted at the sixth spot in 2014 won their league. Also, a stunning 70 percent of fantasy owners who drafted a running back in the first round also won their league.

The Helpers try to under why running backs are so important. For one, starters typically see anywhere between 10-20 carries per game, sometimes even more depending on the offensive philosophy of the coach. A chief example being DeMarco Murray's mere 400 attempts last year. For those who want to draft WR-WR if you're picking late in the draft, it's important to consider that a wide receiver rarely sees 10-20 attempts at catching the ball in any particular game. So if you decide to draft two stud wide receivers, you'll still be dealing with some inconsistency at times due in large part to the fact that there's only so much ball to go around.

Another take is that fantasy owners typically view feature backs as so rare that if you don't end up getting one in the first round, they consider the rest of the running back class to be of similar value and wind up drafting a handful of RBs in the later portion of the draft. While this strategy can work, we don't advise it because it usually involves some luck to end up having a late-round fantasy running back do well. While it's great if you already have a stud running back and you also get lucky and draft the next Jeremy Hill, avoiding running backs all together in the early rounds is a recipe for disaster. 

The Helpers also discuss OTA's and what to think about regarding player speak and how it often deceives fantasy owners into thinking somebody is primed for a breakout season. Case in point being Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, a running back who slimmed down last season and reportedly looked even more explosive than before (if that was possible). Still, McCoy ended up having one of the worst seasons of his career from a scoring standpoint, as he only found the end zone five times and his receiving numbers took a dive due to the emergence of Darren Sproles.

It's not to say a running back losing weight can't be beneficial for him from a fantasy point of view, but other factors such as vision, instincts, decisiveness and mental processing play a big, if not bigger, factor than physical attributes. Just something to take into account before you get too hyped up on one particular player because he looks like he can bench press more or run a slightly faster 40 time.

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Catching the ball has become one of the biggest assets a running back can have both in the NFL and fantasy football. It's no surprise you see RBs like Jamaal Charles, Le'Veon Bell, DeMarco Murray and other receiving competent backs rise above the rest in fantasy points by the end of the 2014 season. But, what if the running back isn't the best receiver on the planet? What if he's just a tough, physical runner who values running over defenders for those extra yards rather than joysticking past defenders? Oh, and what if he doesn't have Adrian Peterson like breakaway speed? Is it still worth drafting the downhill running back?

The answer to that is a resounding yes, however, certain criteria should be met. First, you need to know which round to take him in. Second, you need to know what scheme he plays in and if his running style is a good fit. Third, you need to look at the talent along the offensive line. Lastly, you need to evaluate his health and current physical state of his career.

Where Morris thrives

Redskins' running back Alfred Morris is a textbook example of a downhill runner. If you watched Morris as a rookie in 2012, you saw how effective he was at moving the pile and you almost cringed at the thought of some smaller defensive back having to tackle him. Here's a clip of Morris from 2012 where his drive to will his way past the first down marker is on full display.

Notice how his feet keep moving which allows him to maintain his balance through contact and scamper for more yards. He diagnosed where the hole is going to be quickly enough so that he can burst through it before the Cincinnati defender penetrates the line of scrimmage. He keeps his pad level low, which allows him to stay moving forward and gain positive yardage. His competitive toughness is also apparent on this play, as he looks to initiate contact with the defenders rather than avoid it. It's worth noting that Morris thrived in the read option alongside Robert Griffin III and there's no doubt the threat of a rushing quarterback helped Morris out immensely.

How he changed as a runner

Watching Morris in 2014, you saw a running back that seemed a little more indecisive at times. He often waited patiently to set up his blocks, but never fully committed to the hole even when it was there at times. You factor that in with his subtle decrease in burst, agility and all-around speed and it's no surprise his numbers last year were a career worst.

The Redskins instability at quarterback certainly didn't help Morris either. The team went through all three quarterbacks like kleenex last season and Morris had a different chemistry with each of them. With Robert Griffin III, he had more freedom as a runner because of the QB-run threat. With backup Kirk Cousins, he became more of a 3-4 yard per carry guy in addition to a play action guy which helped open up the passing game for the more pocket-oriented Cousins.

The current version of Morris runs to the edge and patiently waits for his blocks to set up, a trait many consider to be a positive one among running backs. The only difference — he never fully commits and cuts hard up the field like he did in his rookie year.

This isn't to say Morris was indecisive on every play in 2014. You still saw many glimpses of what he's capable of when he decides to commit to his blocks and burst through the hole. That was very evident in the game against Tampa, where Morris rushed for 96 yards on 20 carries. That performance against the Bucs was good for the second-most rushing yards Morris had in a game all season.

Also against Tampa, Morris displayed the kind of competitive toughness that has made him one of the most consistent fantasy backs over the last 3 seasons. Click the vine video below.

Where he still wins in the NFL and on your fantasy team

One of Morris' best traits is his durability. Through three seasons, Morris has started every game. He has shown to be the rare example of a running back who can withstand the harsh punishment of hit after hit that often lead to so many injuries at the position. In fantasy football, a guy who shows up and punches the clock is a valuable commodity in terms of consistency.

You could argue Morris has achieved that durability because of his more recent choices when running the ball. In 2014, there were times when Morris could've plowed over a defender but instead chose to use lateral jukes instead. Now, Morris' agility has never been his strongest suit, and his burst and explosiveness have decreased very slightly but also noticeably over the last three seasons. While you rarely see him make defenders miss like say, LeSean McCoy, his ability to juke rather than try and run defenders over has helped him avoid the violent hits that take their toll on a running back over the years has served as key preserver to the running backs productive career early on.

A typical Alfred Morris run in 2012: Line up in read option, burst through the hole after making one lateral cut, run downhill three of four yards,  initiate contact with defender while still running forward behind pads and keeping legs churning, fall forward for another two or three yards.

A typical Alfred Morris run in 2014: Line up behind the quarterback in a half-pistol formation (typically what he ran with Kirk Cousins at quarterback), burst through the hole just a tad bit slower, shuffle feet more to make cutback instead of planting foot in the ground and cutting decisively, wait for blockers to set up before running 2-3 yards before laterally sliding around defender and falling forward for an extra yard.

While that analysis may indicate Morris has regressed a little bit, the bigger culprit isn't so much in his athleticism since he remains pretty well-off in that category. It's more so his lack of decisiveness in the hole that has hurt his production the most

That, combined with the injury woes to the Redskins at the quarterback position in addition to a young offensive line that had to play a backup tight end at times during the season plus a new coach in Jay Gruden and loss of running back guru Mike Shanahan and you got a few more ingredients to complement the slight dropoff recipe as well.

His benign role in the receiving game

Perhaps the biggest threat against Morris as a potential solid fantasy running back is his struggles in the receiving game. Morris had one of the worst drop rates in the league last season, as he failed to reel in 6 of his 26 targets. This led to the Redskins not trust him much as a receiver, and it hurt Morris' fantasy value on third down. Per Football Outsiders, Morris was only on the field for 58 percent of the snaps in 2014, which ranked him 18th among starting RBs. It hurt him the most on long passing downs, as Washington preferred the services of Roy Helu Jr.

Helu's tendency to stay on the field when the team was running their no huddle offense in hopes of trying to comeback from a deficit in the fourth quarter. It was a fate the Redskins found themselves in very often last season after winning just four games, and Morris' value suffered as he frequently came out during third downs and Roy Helu Jr. saw plenty of work in the passing game via the screen and on choice routes.

Overall, Morris compiled just 37 catches for 310 receiving yards and zero receiving touchdowns in three seasons as a starting running back. It's not the kind of numbers you want to see in a current NFL landscape that almost requires a running back be a good receiver out of the backfield. You have the feeling at any moment, a more talented receiving back like newly-acquired Matt Jones might overtake Morris at some point in 2015.

What 2015 has in store

There is optimism for Morris' fantasy owners in 2015, however. The Redskins are retooling their offensive line and spent a first-round pick on top right tackle Brandon Scherff. Scherff will likely be inserted into the starting lineup immediately and with pro bowler Trent Williams anchoring the other side, this could be a formidable unit as the season goes along. Williams is also in the final year of his rookie contract and will be looking for a pay day. Former third-round pick Spencer Long could also play a big role this season, as he's expected to play at right guard. 

New offensive line coach Bill Callahan wants to make the Redskins more of a power run team like he did with the Cowboys a season ago. This plays to Morris' strengths as a downhill runner. However, he'll have to become better at reading his blocks and more decisive in cutting up field if he wants to post another 1,000-yard season.

Final verdict

Morris is still an RB2, but he's an upper-tier RB2 with an offense that will try to rebuild its line and play more to Morris' strengths as a runner.

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